Turn Off That Camera! Idaho Gov Signs Tough 'Ag-Gag' Into Law

Bill sponsors "tickled," animal rights group says law is "unconstitutional."

ByABC News
February 28, 2014, 6:19 PM

Feb. 28, 2014 — -- Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter has signed the latest so-called "Ag Gag" bill, making the state the seventh in the nation to criminalize hidden camera recording inside farm facilities – a tactic used by animal rights groups to expose alleged animal abuse and cruelty.

"We're tickled," Senator Jim Patrick, one of the bills' sponsors, told ABC News Friday afternoon, calling the law "enforceable and constitutional.""It's a relief to have it done and settled," he said.

The law will put anyone convicted of recording hidden camera video inside an agriculture operation in jail for a year. There is also a $5000 fine.

In debating the bill, legislators cited undercover footage taken at Bettencourt Dairies that aired last year on ABC News "Nightline" – showing horrific abuse of cows. An activist working for the group Mercy for Animals recorded brutal abuse of cows in 2012, including the beating and shocking of the animals. The video was turned over to local law enforcement and criminal charges were brought against three employees at the facility. One pleaded guilty to misdemeanor animal cruelty.

Patrick said when things turned "personal" against owner Luis Bettencourt, including death threats against him and his family, it created fear in all Idaho farmers, which ultimately led to the controversial bill.

"There wouldn't have been much pressure to do anything if it wasn't for the fact that they were going after him personally," Patrick said.

The animal rights group Mercy for Animals, which has produced several undercover videos, has been extremely critical of the "Ag Gag" bill in Idaho as well as similar legislation in other states. Today, the group said they believed Gov. Otter bowed to pressure from "corporate factory farming interests."

"Mercy For Animals is exploring all legal avenues to overturn this dangerous, unconstitutional, and un-American law," said Nathan Runkle, the group's executive director. "This is a sad day for animals, consumers, the constitution, and the media… Idaho's flawed and misdirected new law will now throw shut the doors to industrial factory farms and allow animal abuse, environmental violations, and food contamination to flourish undetected, unchallenged, and unaddressed."

Pleas to the governor to veto the bill poured in from activist groups and notable public figures alike, including former Price Is Right host Bob Barker and the CEO of Chobani, Hamdi Ulukya. Uluka tweeted his opposition to the bill: "As someone who grew up on a farm, I believe how we treat animals is a moral imperative."

The nationwide battle over "Ag Gag" legislation has reached a fever pitch in recent months.

In addition to Idaho, three states have already considered some form of "ag-gag" legislation in 2014; lawmakers in Arizona, New Hampshire and Indiana introduced bills this year. Eleven other states introduced bills in 2013, but not a single bill passed that year.

There are laws on the books in six states, including Iowa, where it is a crime to get hired at a farm under false pretenses. That law passed in 2012, just a few months after an ABC News report that featured undercover video showing inhumane and unsanitary conditions at a large egg factory.

Undercover activists have vowed to continue reporting on conditions inside American farms, despite the push to keep them out. The activist who documented the abuse of cows at Bettencourt Dairies told ABC News last year the public needs these videos more than ever.

"Most members of the public don't understand what we're doing. They think we're just running around filming things and throwing it up on YouTube," he said. "These are criminal investigations."

Idaho Senator Jim Patrick says the new law brings relief to farmers around the state.

"There are so many things that these groups don't like. We feel like any one of us could be a target," he said.

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